Another Hollywood remake from a European original.

I notice that in the Philippines, most stories in TV drama or film are rehash of old movies. In Hollywood, there is the same pattern of remakes from European films (mostly Scandinavian) or Asian horror films. A new film Contraband is no exception.

I haven’t seen the original Iceland version, but you can hardly identify the genre for this one. Is it heist-action or suspense-drama? Critics in the US categorize this movie as B-movie, but come on, Mark Wahlberg plus Kate Beckinsale plus Giovanni Ribisi in one film? You consider that B-movie?

The acting is great. The story average. But it keeps you at the edge of your seat because it is fast-paced, vacillates from New Orleans to Panama, to New Orleans to Panama. My gauge if I like a movie is through the sleepy mood meter when watching it on a last full show. If I feel sleepy or if I want to just shut my eye, then the movie sucks (big time). If I feel otherwise, and awake the entire proceeding of the movie, then it must be good.

For Contraband, I feel the latter. But I have one question though. Is it really a practice among shipping vessels that they would hire non-shipping employees to ride and help in the ship, the way Mark Wahlberg’s role and his brother in law did in the movie?

If you want to unwind this weekend, catch a movie. Watch Contraband.

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Read this. Read this. Read this.

It was 1933. William E. Dodd was appointed by then US President Franklin Roosevelt to be the country’s ambassador to Germany. When he entered Berlin, the seat of its assignment, he already foresaw that this country is on a brink of authoritarian regime led by Adolf Hitler. The book is based on letters, journal write ups, and memos from that era that was well-research by its compelling author, Erik Larson.

The Dodd family

As Janet Maslin of The New York Times describe it:

“In the Garden of Beasts” has the clarity of purpose to see the Germany of 1933 through the eyes of this uniquely well-positioned American family. There are hindsight-laden books that see the rise of Hitler as a parade of telltale signs. There are individual accounts that personalize the atmosphere of mounting oppression and terror. But there has been nothing quite like Mr. Larson’s story of the four Dodds, characters straight out of a 1930s family drama, transporting their shortcomings to a new world full of nasty surprises.”

The book was already chosen by Tom Hanks for a film adaptation. One of 2011’s best historical non-fiction.

My favorite film of 2011.

I thought that my favorite film of the year will be those included in the nominations in Golden Globes or The Oscars. Until I saw this indie film titled “50/50” starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen and Anna Kendrick. I am biased for movies with good soundtrack, and this one film is (again) had me. And the last time I like a movie with good soundtrack was (500) Days of Summer, which incidentally, also starred Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

It is a story of a 27 year old guy (Levitt) who discovered that he has spinal cancer, and how he deals with it. Though the topic at hand is serious, but what can you expect with Seth Rogen in it? But I like how the story was carried over, even if the core story at hand, is beating and living your life after knowing and discovering that you have cancer. One memorable scene is in the hospital and Radiohead’s “High and Dry” is played after Levitt discovered his malady. And of course, the kilig scene at the ending when Pearl Jam’s “Yellow Ledbetter” is played.

I will not review the movie in detailed manner. You just don’t when you like it. You shut your mind for its flaws. Go. Watch. It.

Movie Marathon. Part 1.

End of the year is a good time to watch movies in DVD because this is the MMFF week. I am not really a fan of this film lineup happening from Christmas up to New Year. No choice but to stock up on foreign movies that are already available in DVD format. My usual basis for the titles are the top films for the year. And for 2011, these movies are almost always present in the Top 10 of well respected award giving bodies, including National Board of Review (NBR), American Film Institute (AFI), Hollywood Foreign Press Association (which gives us the Golden Globes), National Critics Circle, and other prominent newspapers in the US like NY Times, LA Times, Time.

1. The Help. Story of a returning Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan (Emma Stone) in Jackson, Mississippi after graduating from Ole Miss. She wants a career in journalism and wants to enter The New York Times. An independent, strong-willed woman breed by proper education, she decided to interview Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis), the help of her friend. Aibeleen is black, and during this time, they are considered as the low class. The existing laws then do not give them equal opportunity as the whites. Skeeter initially wants the help of Aibileen for some household tips which she needed for a column on housekeeping in a local newspaper. But eventually, she found out about her own nanny (also a black) and why she was already absent when she return to their house. Skeeter witness unfair treatment, disadvantageous laws, abuse treatment against black helpers in her place. She silently compiled them into a book and send it to New York for publishing, which eventually became the basis for this film. Full of strong, driven acting, The Help has the same tone as The Color Purple, telling us a glimpse in the American history of civil rights.

2. Bridesmaids. This is what for women, as The Hangover was for drunk men. The parallelism is so similar, that Wilson Philips is like Mike Tyson to The Hangover. Hilarious, loud, and satisfying. There were two scenes where I laugh out loud: a) the wedding gown fit in a boutique and all of a sudden everyone experience upset stomachs, b) the speech of two competing best friends prior to the wedding when one friend—after running out of thing to say—went straight to singing.

3. Moneyball. I just finish reading The Art Of Fielding, and this movie reminds me of it. Maybe because it tackles the same sport—baseball. While the book is serious in tone with dark theme, Moneyball is light and breezy. It is the story of Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), a real life failed baseball player, who is now the general manager of Oakland Athletics, a baseball team in the San Francisco Bay Area. Tired of his team’s reputation as the “organ donor” for wealthier baseball clubs in the US, he invited a young, overweight baseball analyst of the Cleveland Indians to work for him. The young hotshot is Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), an economics graduate from Yale. Now that he works for Billy Beane, he presented an idea that the team may not hire the best players but rather pick the obscure ones but with specific talents for each skills needed in baseball runs. He presented it through statistics, and solid numbers from players previous achievements. When Billy presents this to the core group who manages the team together with him, he was received with scorn and shouts. But he insists on this formula, and it was effective for a time. How so? Well, the team won 20 consecutive plays, an all time record in baseball history. There was a memorable scene when Billy Beane plays the demo record of his daughter singing Lenka’s “The Show” and got him teary-eyed. It was a crossroad for him to choose between a high stake career in baseball management versus spending quality time with his daughter/family. And when you watch the film, you will realize where his priorities belong.

Did you read this book already?

The book Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson is still consistent in the booksellers list of Amazon.com, and it has been there for some months now. Now I know why it stayed there that long.

I read this thick book after New Year and I cannot put it down. What makes it worthwhile is that you will know a lot of things about this iconic person other than you read and see in media. He is more than the genius behind Apple, and the author interviews more than one hundred people that was link to Steve Jobs—be it through work, or personal life—in order for the readers to make a wholistic impression on him. And I think that the author succeeded in that regard, especially those people who were his former friends but became competitors (and eventually enemies). 

His ill-manners, filthy mannerisms, strict and restrictive diet, as well as his famous obsessive-compulsive borderline bias towards engineering and design in all Apple products were given huge emphasis in the book. I remember before that prior to his death, Steve Jobs said that he wanted this book because he wants his children to know him personally. A sad revelation. When you read the book, you will know why this is so. His relationship with his children is very far from average, which implicitly being blamed on the fact that he was also abandoned by his biological parents (he was an adopted son).

The book is rich with information that you don’t notice how thick it is. Read it so that you will know how much sweat and shouting were poured in to your MacBook or iPod or iPhone before they were release in the market.

Politics makes strange bedfellows.

Ides of March means March 15th in the Roman calendar. It is also famous as the date when Julius Caesar was killed in 44BC. He was stabbed to death in the Roman Senate by a group of conspirators led by Marcus Junius Brutus. Ides of March is also the new movie of George Clooney.

In the movie, the same can be said about Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling), a Junior Campaign Manager for Mike Morris (George Clooney) who is running for president of the United States under the Democratic party.

After Meyers discovered something flawed about Morris–whom he idolized as a good statesman–during a sexual tryst with one of his interns, his whole world turns upside down. He was kicked out of the campaign party. To take revenge, he made an unusual decision and present this to Morris who reluctantly agree to it, but eventually compromise for a sure stake in the White House.

The film gives a glimpse on the political campaign in the US (very fitting now), and how problems are handled off the record. Ryan Gosling makes an excellent portrayal as a young, aspiring campaign leader. That scene inside the car when he checks the phone of the intern Molly Stearns (Rachel Wood) who just committed drug overdose/suicide is riveting (see picture above).

George Clooney makes a good political candidate which is weird for someone who abhors US politics. In reality, he is active with United Nations and is vocal about Darfur and its crisis there. He is s good actor, but I think that he is a better director.

Go. Watch Ides of March.

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By the way, the movie is nominated for Best Picture (Drama) at tomorrow’s Golden Globes Awards. Ryan Gosling is also nominated as Best Actor. George Clooney is nominated as Best Director.